Social Media, Lawyers, and You

Gavel_iStock_000015518511XSmall1One of the ever-changing and evolving areas of the law is how it interrelates with social media. Where some of us actually recall a time when lawyers could not even advertise legally, there are many people out there who think it completely normal, perhaps even essential, to broadcast everything publicly, from daily minutiae to comments on world events.

Twitter and Facebook, among others, have been credited, or blamed, for fostering revolutions in the Middle East and flashmobs in the U.S.

In other words, like nuclear physics, ABBA, and Lance Armstrong, social media can be used for "good" or "bad" purposes depending upon one's point of view.

An old playwright by the name of Shakespeare wrote that, "all the world's a stage," many centuries ago, but perhaps he and this Zuckerberg guy might have been on to something. We do tend to share things more now than ever before, while at the same time being more anonymous. One could certainly argue whether this is good or bad but the fact is it is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Lawyers have ethical requirements that restrain them from communicating private or privileged details to the public at large. Generally, if my client tells me something, I cannot repeat it. There are exceptions, as well as situations where I can "talk" about something more generally without revealing confidences. I can, for example, tweet or blog about a case I have involving a specific situation, person of a certain age, and the injuries sustained. I can, with the client's agreement, post an endorsement from that client of my work on my website. But I cannot reveal confidences that are part of a pending case. There is a whole host of rules about what lawyers can and cannot say to the media while on trial. Notice how carefully most lawyers speak to the media while on trial, Sam Adams, Jr. excepted. Mr. Adams might have been a bit off the chart with his antics, entertaining though I find them, but he still did not say anything that he was not allowed to say.

Ok, so lawyers pretty much have rules about what they can say and do and write. What about the public?

Here's the rub (to kind of sort of quote that Shakespeare guy again); most people are potential clients, jurors, defendants long after they have shared their lives online. In other words, don't think for a moment that what you wrote 2 months before your accident about squatting 600 pounds and how your back really was sore won't come up in your auto accident case where you are claiming back injuries. Like I said above, all the world is a stage, especially now, in the world of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp, FourSquare,and all the other avenues for "sharing."

An excellent article by my colleague Helen Gunarrsson in the Illinois Bar Journal provides a wealth of information, in-depth examples, and other cautionary tales to consider in this area.

There is food for thought for lawyers, the public at large, and may give us all a bit of pause before our next "friending."

Categories: General